Don’t Let Your Travel Credits Go to Waste: How to Use Them Before They Expire

by joeheg

January 1st can be a dreaded day for frequent travelers, as it marks the reset of airline miles and hotel night counters. This means they must start from scratch to achieve the status for the upcoming year. Additionally, the start of a new year also indicates the reset of many travel credits, and any unspent funds will be lost.

I’ve thought about ditching all my premium cards but didn’t do it. If you’re someone who has a premium travel credit card (or multiple ones), it’s important to know about the travel credits that come with these cards. These credits, which typically range from $100 to $325, are meant to help offset the high annual fees associated with these cards. However, the catch is that you need to use these credits before they expire. To make things even more complicated, the eligible charges for reimbursement and the procedures to obtain these credits can vary depending on the card you have. Additionally, some cards offer credits based on your membership year while others follow the calendar year.

Here are some of the more popular cards that offer annual travel credits and whether the credits are based on the calendar year or membership year. If you haven’t used your travel credits yet, you better get moving as many expire in December, not necessarily at the end of the month.

American Express Platinum and Business Platinum


Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

The American Express Platinum card’s personal and business versions come with a $200 annual airline fee credit. You need to choose one of the following airlines in January to use your credits for the entire year:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines

The credit can be used for baggage fees, booking fees, in-flight food, and beverage purchases, and lounge admission. Unless you’re constantly paying for checked baggage (and if you are, why don’t you have a card that gives you a free checked bag?) or upgrading your seat, it might be difficult to use your $200 credit on some airlines. Before picking your airline, I’d suggest Googling “AMEX Platinum Credit Flyertalk (your airline).” They have a list of what charges count and which ones don’t. You’d be surprised at which airlines I think are the best ones to use for these credits.

If you try to tiptoe around the air travel credit rules based on something you read online, follow the directions they give to the letter and now REPEAT AFTER ME: “I WILL NOT CALL AMERICAN EXPRESS TO ASK WHY I DIDN’T GET REIMBURSED BECAUSE IT SAID ONLINE THAT I COULD DO IT!”

American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card


Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

This card comes with a $250 Airline Incidental Free credit, even higher than the credits from the AMEX Platinum cards. However, it comes with the same restrictions on what you can use the credits for, and they’re still only good for use on one airline which you need to choose in January for the entire calendar year.

Bank of America Premium Rewards

a close-up of a credit card

Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

This card from Bank of America has a $100 annual Airline Incidental Statement Credit. The credit does come with a number of restrictions:

Qualifying transactions are those purchases made on domestic-originated flights on certain U.S.-domestic airline carriers that include: preferred seating upgrades, ticket change/cancellation fees, checked baggage fees, in-flight entertainment, onboard food and beverage charges, and airport lounge fees affiliated with eligible airline carriers. Airline ticket purchases, mileage point purchases, mileage point transfer fees, gift cards, duty-free purchases, award tickets and fees incurred with airline alliance partners do not qualify. Airline incidental fee transactions must be separate from airline ticket charges.

Citi Prestige


Credit is based on the calendar year – it resets at the end of your December statement (so not actually the end of the year), and charges after that count towards the following year.

The Citi Prestige comes with a $250 annual travel credit.

Travel Purchases are defined as purchases made within the travel category, including purchases from airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies/travel aggregators/tour operators, commuter transportation, ferries, commuter railways, subways, taxis/limousines/car services, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, and bus lines

Chase Sapphire Reserve


Credit is based on the member year for new approvals. Annual means the year beginning with your account opening date through the first statement date after your opening date anniversary and the 12 monthly billing cycles each year.

The Sapphire Reserve comes with a $300 annual travel credit. This is a very broad credit that includes anything that may be travel-related:

Merchants in the travel category include airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.

Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards

ritz-carlton-rewards-credit-card1Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards card has a $300 travel credit. The eligible charges for the credit as listed on the website as follows:

Only the following types of non-ticket purchases qualify for this offer: airline lounge day pass, or towards a yearly lounge membership of your choice; airline seat upgrades; airline baggage fees; in-flight Internet/entertainment; in-flight meals. Purchases are when you, or an authorized user, use a card to make purchases of products and services, minus returns or refunds.

One of the complaints about this card is that the travel credits don’t post automatically. Instead, you need to call to request the credit.

To request a statement credit to apply towards qualifying airline incidental purchase(s) made with your Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, you must contact J.P. Morgan Priority Services at the number on the back of your Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card within 4 billing cycles of the purchase date.

City National Bank Crystal Visa Infinite


Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

The City National Crystal card provides a $350 statement credit for qualifying airline purchases. Unlike other cards, TSA Pre✓®membership application fee is included as part of the yearly benefit instead of being counted separately.

Qualifying Airline Purchases are defined as incidental airline fee transactions made at eligible US Domestic Airline Carriers on domestic itineraries and include: ticket change/cancellation fees, checked baggage fees, in-flight entertainment, onboard food and beverage charges, airport lounge membership fees and day passes, onboard wireless charges (excluding Gogo Wireless), and TSA Pre✓® membership application fee. 

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

Premier Art

Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

The HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard has a $400 Annual Travel Credit

You will receive an automatic $100 Travel Credit for every $2,000 spent in cumulative travel purchases (minus returns, credits and adjustments) booked through HSBC Travel powered by Priceline, up to a maximum of $400 in total statement credits per calendar year. Travel booked with Points or directly with travel providers other than HSBC Travel are not eligible for Travel Credit. Your Travel Credits will post automatically to your credit card statement in 1-2 billing cycles. To receive the Travel Credit your HSBC Elite World Elite Mastercard® credit card must be open and in good standing.

PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa

a card with a symbol on it

Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa has a $100 Annual Airline Fee Credit for U.S. Headquartered airlines:

To receive statement credits of up to $100 per calendar year toward incidental air travel fees, the fees must be charged on the eligible card account by select U.S. domestic airlines. Currently, such U.S. domestic airlines include: Alaskan Air, American Air, Delta Air, Frontier Air, Hawaiian Air, JetBlue, Southwest Air, United Air, and Virgin America.

Incidental air travel fees include charges from the airline such as baggage fees, flight-change fees, in-flight food and beverage purchases, airport lounge day-passes, pet-kennel fee, and phone reservation fees. Airline tickets, upgrades, mileage points purchases, mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, duty free purchases, and award tickets are not deemed to be incidental fees.

(and they do still list Virgin America as an eligible airline)

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Priority


Credit is based on cardmember year for new approvals. Annual means the year beginning with your account open date through the first statement date after your account open date anniversary, and the 12 monthly billing cycles after that each year.

A statement credit will automatically be applied to your account when your Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Priority Card is used for Southwest Airlines purchases (excluding Upgraded Boardings and inflight purchases), up to an anniversary year maximum accumulation of $75. 

UBS Visa Infinite


Credit is based on the calendar year – resets on January 1st

The UBS Visa Infinite card gives a $250 credit per year for qualifying air expenses. Like the AMEX cards, you need to enroll for this benefit and choose one of the eligible domestic airlines before you can get your credits. Charges that can be reimbursed are as listed:

  • Luggage fees
  • Upgrade fees
  • Meals
  • Cancellation fees
  • Lounge fees
  • Change fees
  • Unaccompanied minor fees
  • Pet travel fees
  • Lost ticket fees

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve


Credit is based on cardmember year

The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve gives a $325 Annual Travel Credit. The categories eligible for the credit are very wide and the credit is applied automatically.

Automatic statement credit(s) totaling up to $325 will be applied to your Account when a Card is used for purchases made directly from airlines, hotels, car rental companies, taxis, limousines, passenger trains and cruise lines. Credit(s) apply to eligible Net Purchases that post to your Account on a Cardmember-year basis (based on Account opening date)

Final Thoughts

Please note that with the exception of the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve, Southwest Priority, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the annual travel credits of all other credit cards reset at the end of the year. Therefore, if you possess any of these cards and have not used these credits yet, time is running out for you to do so.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Sam December 13, 2018 - 6:21 pm

Any other credit cards with annual travel credit besides the ones listed above? I did not know that small regional banks like CNB offered such a great card like the Crystal.

joeheg December 14, 2018 - 6:50 pm

I just did some looking at that article as it was from last year. It looks like some new cards from HSBC and PenFed also offer credits. The new Hilton AMEX card also offers an airline credit. I’ll be updating this article soon.

Frank December 2, 2019 - 1:36 pm

Citi Pestige credit is no longer limited to airlines as of 2019. Along with the many, many negative changes to the 4th night free and insurance products, they opened the credit to hotels, car rentals, public transport, taxis, cruises, tolls and parking garages.

joeheg December 2, 2019 - 9:14 pm

Thanks for catching that oversight. The article has been updated accordingly.

Amy January 12, 2020 - 8:06 pm

Hi, according to your article “Credit is based on the calendar year – resets at the end of your December statement (so not actually the end of the year) and charges after that count towards the following year.” However, I made some travel purchases after the end of my 2019 December statement and hoped to get my 2020 travel credit. After the January statement posted, I didn’t get any travel credit. I contacted Citi and was told the travel credit resets on 1/1 of each year….

joeheg January 13, 2020 - 10:53 pm

The Citi website’s information on the travel credit is rather vague.

Your Card Account is eligible to receive statement credits of up to $250 per calendar year for Travel Purchases made by the Primary cardmember or Authorized Users and which appear on your billing statement during that calendar year

What does appearing on your billing statement during that calendar year mean? If you don’t receive the statement with that charge until January, isn’t that the following year?

I’d think there’s a chance you could get somewhere by calling Citi back and trying again, or by speaking to a supervisor.

I did some research on the web and all the other websites that mention the credit say the same thing about it resetting as of the end of the December statement. So if what you were told is in fact the case, that’s news to everybody.


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